My most recent goal was a very simple one – find a patch of grass in this park, and absolutely pass out in it. It gave me something to do, but now that I’m successfully at my own patch of grass… the adrenaline has worn off and I’m exhausted.
My plane to Madrid arrived at 8:30am, so I was completed through customs, with my bag, and at the taxi depot by 9:20am. This meant that I was arriving at my hostel, the one with a 3pm check-in, at 10am.
I knew they would store my luggage, but I was really hoping they would have a room ready for me since I had just been on a plane for 12 hours, felt gross, and just wanted to change my clothes and wash my face. It didn’t go quite as smoothly as that.
The taxi driver that took me on the 22-minute drive from the airport to the hostel didn’t speak a lick of English. Which was completely fine with me, as I could tell him the address I needed to be at, why I was in Madrid, and make small talk quite easily. However, it was obvious to him I was a fragmented Spanish speaker in the grammatical errors I know I made. The problem arose because I didn’t have the specific address to the hostel, just the bar next door. When the taxi driver pulled up to the closed bar that I told him was my destination, knowing I had two suitcases and had never been to Spain before, he was very hesitant to let me out of the taxi.
While my father was back home worrying about me getting in a taxi because he thought I might get kidnapped, the taxi driver was keeping me in his car for the complete opposite reasons.
“El restaurante está cerrado – esta dirección está correcto?”
Finally on the fifth time of me saying, “Si, el hostel de mi está cerca de el restaurante” and pointing at the small hostel sign, he finally got out of the car and helped me unload my suitcases.
That was the first out of three of my problems.
Once I arrived at the hostel, I tried to buzz up with no response. There was a WhatsApp phone number posted outside so I called it to find another person who spoke no English. One of the three main reasons I came to Spain was to increase my Spanish fluency, but I wasn’t expecting the first two people I had to interact with so technically do not speak English. The owner of the hostel told me (problem #2) that it would take him 20 minutes to get to the hostel and open the door for me. In my first hour in a different country where I had been dramatically warned about pick pocketers, I had to sit on a bench outside the hostel with two large suitcases and an embarrassed look on my face.
When he arrived, he told me that I indeed could not check in until 3pm (problem #3), but he would take my suitcases and store them there. Frantically I simply took the backpack I had as my carry-on item, an Osprey bag that probably weighed close to 30 pounds. It had my computer, books, and a random assortment of other heavy items that I was not expecting to have to lug around for five hours. It also had my wallet, water bottle, outlet adapter, and a lot of other things I would need with me if I was spending five hours out in Madrid, and I didn’t want to go fish through the entire bag to pull those items out. It was bad (but hopeful) planning on my part, but there was nothing I could do about it now.
In a city known for walking everywhere, I decided a 30-minute walk through the city wouldn’t cause me any harm. I was also on a mission because I’m not used to a big city full of buildings, and I needed a comfort park. I chose Parque del Retiro because I had read about the boats you can rent and paddle around a big lake, and I figured where there is a lake, there is grass. And although Google Maps told me the park was closed, I defiantly said, “How can you close a public park?” and huffed my way there in 23 minutes.
I’ve always been told when traveling, especially alone, to walk with a purpose. It makes you look like a harder target like you know where you’re going, and you aren’t a tourist. However there indeed is a big difference in how Europeans ‘walk with a purpose’ and how Midwesterners ‘walk with a purpose’. They were probably watching me make my way through the crowds, wondering what marathon I was training for.
Now that I’m settled down at this park and the adrenaline of everything is gone, I’m officially beginning to realize where I am and what I’m doing. It was probably a mix between the flight anxiety also wearing off, my lack of sleep, and the hot water paired with dehydration, but I felt The Animal begin to take over. I don’t know how I’m going to survive in this city for six months, and it was especially hard to come from my parent’s house instead of university since I was beginning to be dependent on them.
When I start having string anxiety, where one problem leads to another problem until The Animal has risen, over being in a new place by myself, I always ask myself, “Okay, so is it loneliness or is it freedom?” and most of the time, that changes the way I think about things because it truly is freedom. But right now, as I sit underneath this tree sweaty, tired, with no home to go to and without knowing a single soul in the city (in the country) and I watch families splash each other with their rows and couples idle on the lake, I realize that sometimes it truly is loneliness.
It was finally time to go back to my hostel after visiting a café, walking around the city, but spending the majority of my time reading in the park. Some days, you just have to admit you lost the battle but will win the war. Although today was more upsetting than I hoped for my first day in an international country and I had to give myself a few Mirror Pep Talks, I know that once my friends start to get here, I am able to unpack in my university apartment, and school starts giving me a schedule, it will get substantially better. Now all I have to work on is making sure I don’t get so overwhelmed that I ruin my week of solo traveling before my program starts, because as my mom keeps saying, “You never know when you’ll ever be able to do something like this ever again.”
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